Google Ads for lead generation: A 6-step framework for success

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Google Ads for lead generation: A 6-step framework for success


Successful lead gen advertisers view marketing as a revenue driver, not just a lead driver. Ecommerce advertisers adopt the simple formula of “invest X, get Y in revenue.”

Lead gen advertisers can do the same – only if they evolve their mindset and their Google Ads strategy to effectively drive better quality, higher value leads.

In some cases, we can operate like an ecommerce business.

Achieving significant revenue through Google Ads for lead gen comes with a lot of complexity, and there is no universal solution.

Every business operates differently and, in some cases, advertisers can fall foul to Google product limitations (i.e., long sales cycles) or become paralyzed with indecision. Get as close to real revenue as possible.

I’m no longer an employee but I’m still a huge Google best practice advocate. The key to profitable, sustainable growth for lead gen is what I call the High Quality Leads (HQL) framework.

Why is lead quality so important?

Not all leads are created equal. Google can drive an increased volume of leads, but the quality and the intrinsic value of those leads will differ.

The key is telling Google how your leads differ in value to your business.

Google is becoming less about the minutiae. Tight targeting and granular structures will not get you the volumes you need to grow consistently.

Think of the power Performance Max and broad match would have if we only optimized toward high-quality, high-value leads.

Use as much data as possible to guide Google’s AI solutions. Narrow the circle of what good looks like and then open the targeting taps on Search and other networks (Video, Display) to drive growth.

6 steps to high-quality leads in Google Ads

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Phase 1: Internal alignment on business goals

Everyone should be working toward the same goals.

Oftentimes, we hear from the board that the goal this year is to increase profitability by 25% while the marketing team is tasked with feeding the sales team with a 25% increase in leads regardless of the quality or value of those leads.

Why not improve quality while also increasing volume?

Phase 2: Map the lead-to-sale journey

This is arguably the most important step in this process.

Taking the time to assess this accurately will inform what is possible in our mission to get closer to revenue generation.

Act as if you were a potential customer and map both the online and offline touchpoints all the way to the revenue stage. Take out a piece of paper. You can also do it in a spreadsheet or a Google Doc.

Keep the following in mind:

  • Average amount of time between each step to inform whether it is possible to optimize this as a conversion action.
  • Average volume of conversions monthly for each step.
  • Average conversion rate (CvR) between each step lets you assign static value if you go down this route.

Below is an example of a simple lead-to-sale journey for a SAAS company. (This will be different for every business and can contain many steps.)

SaaS - Lead-to-sale

Now we can decide where in the lead-to-sale journey is best to optimize toward and how we can tell Google which leads are worth more to us.

In the example above, I would recommend my client to optimize toward SQL with dynamic values based on things like company size or predictive lifetime value (pLTV)  if that is viable.

Why? High volume of conversions, dynamic value available and huge efficiency improvements compared to the online conversion actions.

Why not “Contract Signed”?

A 30-day delay in this data being imported back to Google will result in a very long learning period.

Also, 30 conversions over 30 days are on the cusp of being too low in volume. (We’ll discuss this in more detail in the next phase.)

Phase 3: Choosing point(s) of optimization (and assigning values where relevant)

This is all about giving Google more data on what good looks like to allow Smart Bidding to make decisions when it comes to auction time.

Here are key things to keep in mind:

Data freshness

Technically, Google can optimize toward actions that take place 90 days post-click. However, the auction may be entirely different, and the learning period will be too long.

The recommendation is not to optimize toward anything that takes place after 14 days.

Fresher data is better, but decide if data freshness is worth sacrificing for much higher quality leads.

Volume of conversions

Technically, Google can use conversion actions that have 15+ over a 30-day period.

But the more, the better. My recommendation is to use conversion actions with 50+.

Is offline conversion import possible for your business?

Assess whether the investment (time and money) is worth it. CRMs like HubSpot and Salesforce have direct integrations with Google.

There are also questions about whether it will continue to be a viable solution once the Digital Service Act fully comes into play in 2024

Assign values to differentiate between conversion actions and/or each individual lead

There are multiple ways to do this:

  • Static values.
  • Lead scoring.
  • Dynamic values.
  • Predicted LTV.
  • Profit values.
  • And more.

Even static values are an improvement in treating all conversion actions as equal.

In our above example, we are telling Google that we like demo requests three times more than free trials.

This is business intelligence that Google doesn’t have otherwise. Smart Bidding will optimize accordingly.

Make adjustments based on real performance

This is not a one-and-done scenario. If values or volumes shift, so too should your strategy.

Google Ads is becoming more about feeding it with the right data rather than making minute optimizations. Understand how this strategy is affecting your bottom line and adjust accordingly.

Optimize toward conversion actions that are in the same stage of the lead-to-sale journey

Do not optimize toward multiple stages in the same journey. Smart Bidding is not funnel-aware yet.

Pre-qualify online conversions when possible

Use data layers in your form to pre-qualify the type of converting user you’re looking for. For instance, ask for company size or job title or implement a booking system like Calendly on-site.

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Phase 4: Use Google’s Smart Bidding to make use of this additional data

I don’t need to convince anyone anymore whether Smart Bidding is right for their business.

Still, it is important to know how to use those bid strategies to their greatest advantage.

Some things to keep in mind:

Conversion volume

Target ROAS (tROAS) still has a threshold of 15 conversions at an account level. From my experience, this is still too low.

Use Maximize Conversion Value until you hit 50.

Test, test, test

If you have the volumes, test how value bidding compares to conversion-based bidding using Campaign Experiments.

Make sure you have clear goals in mind before doing so. What does good look like for you?

Expect some volatility in the beginning

Transitioning to a new bid strategy and/or conversion action will result in volatility. The trick is to mitigate this as much as possible.

Understanding how Smart Bidding uses data is key here. You’ll likely need to make tweaks in the short term.

Be aware that there will be a learning period where performance may look disappointing.

Campaign vs. account-level goals

Google learns at an account level, cross campaign when it’s given the chance. Aim to use account-level goals wherever possible.

There are some circumstances where campaign-level goals make sense. I’ll discuss some of these later.

Phase 5: Time for growth

Assuming we are now getting more qualified leads or, at a minimum, more of our most valuable lead types. It’s time to capitalize. Enter Broad Match.

Broad Match was a bad word in my first seven years in Google.

Now, it should be seen as the go-to match type for performance advertisers.

When paired with Smart Bidding, it makes you eligible for many more queries while only entering into auctions that are likely to convert.

If you haven’t tried it yet, then test.

Again, campaign experiments are your best friend here.

On average, you’re likely to see a 25% increase in conversion volume for the same CPA/ROAS.

Things to keep in mind include:

Generic, not brand

While technically, you could use Broad Match for brand campaigns, I wouldn’t advise it.

You’ll likely receive non-brand clicks through your brand campaign.


As we all know, Google has limited the queries that can be seen in the Search Terms report. This shouldn’t dissuade you from testing Broad Match.

Negative keywords are still a thing, but more important is ensuring we ask Google to optimize toward the right conversion actions.

Creative relevance is important

You’re now eligible for a much wider range of queries.

Regularly optimizing your responsive search ads (RSAs) will ensure that the Quality Score for each query is as high as possible.

Leave no stone unturned

Pair Broad Match with Performance Max and dynamic search ad groups for maximum coverage.

Account structure

While Smart Bidding can optimize at an account level, other AI products like RSAs work in silos. More data equals better performance.

Single-keyword ad groups (SKAGs) are no good. Account structure could be a guide all on its own, so I will leave it at that.

Phase 6: Diversify

Build awareness and drive consideration. This phase won’t be right for all businesses; for some, this might come much earlier in their digital maturity.

Advertisers who do get here, make sure to consider the following:

Change in tactics

Using a video or display campaign to optimize toward offline qualified leads is fruitless. You’ll likely get little to no traffic.

Look at optimizing toward a more upper funnel conversion action for your Video and Display campaigns.

For some advertisers this might be lead form fills, for others it might be website engagement.

Invest in creatives

These channels allow you to tell a story or educate your customers. Use this space wisely.

Measure the impact differently

Again, this channel is unlikely to provide direct response in the same way Search will.

Measure the success of these channels over a longer period using account-level metrics.

For example, in the three months since launching Video, has my conversion volume gone up and CPA gone down? Look at organic conversions for this, too.

A blueprint for lead gen success in Google Ads

Remember that every lead gen customer is different.

Your goals, customer journeys, and audiences vary, so not everything here will apply to every business.

The trick is understanding what’s possible and how to use all Google Ads products and strategies to achieve your goals.

Knowing your customer still rings through. Better yet, tell Google who your customer is.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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